Hot hatch

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 Mk.1 ( variant shown, with additional aftermarket accessories)
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VW Golf Mk.1 (convertible variant shown, with additional aftermarket accessories)

A hot hatch is an informal or slang term for a performance derivative of a small hatchback car. Vehicles of this class are typically based on a budget, family orientated car, and equipped with improved suspension and a more powerful engine. Front mounted engines and front wheel drive is the most common layout.

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Development of the hot hatch

The design most often considered to have started the hot hatch genre is the 1977 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The original 1974 version of the Golf was in mass production at this point, and the addition of a 1.6 litre fuel injected engine, sharp handling, and sharper marketing found a huge market for enjoyable yet practical cars.

The Golf GTI enjoyed a short run of almost unparalleled success, but by the early 1980s car manufacturers worldwide were racing to market with their own alternatives. Notable big-sellers in the early days were the Ford Escort XR3 and Vauxhall Astra GTE.

By the end of the 1980s the hot hatch had taken its place across the UK and Europe, and was pushing into other worldwide markets. The brief heyday of Group B rallying pushed the hot hatch genre to its limits, and small numbers of ultra-high performance variants were manufactured to comply with the rally rules. These enthusiasts vehicles represented a brief, extreme branch of the hot hatch, and included such notable vehicles as the Peugeot 205 T-16 and MG Metro 6R4.

Pre-History: Hot hatches and compacts before 1980

Until 1980 the VW Golf had the market largely to itself. Competition was limited to non-hatchbacks such as the Mini, and race-inspired enthusiasts' vehicles such as the Vauxhall Chevette HS. However, sub-compacts and superminis had adopted a two-box design ever since the Mini, and, in spite of their small engines, had been adopted by young racing enthusiasts with little money because of their low weight. Thus, even though the Golf was one of the few cars with engines larger than 1.4 liters and with more than 100 bhp, other hatches were on their way to becoming "hot". Also, cars such as the Hillman Imp or the Simca Rallye, while having sedan bodies, were small enough to be considered direct ancestors of the hot hatch.

1980–1990—The first generation

The first generation of hot hatches included the following notable models:

1990–2000—The second generation

With the Golf getting slower, heavier and more expensive to match its target market, space opened for a new breed of hot hatches in the 1990s:

Hot hatches since 2000

The late 90s saw a volley of criticism leveled at the hot hatch market. The so-called "Max Power" culture had overtaken the lower priced models, and the higher-end models were expensive, heavy and slow. Radical new designs are called for if the hot hatch market wants to avoid blurring into mass of over-stylised modern vehicles. Fortunately, the car manufacturers are feeling the threat, and the future promises new, aggressive and exciting designs. The current crop include:

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